A stage crowded with 10 candidates, all vying to impress the American public in a virtual speed-dating night: The first Democratic primary debate is predicted to be a "mess".

On Wednesday at 9pm Eastern Standard Time (11am on Thursday Australian Eastern Standard Time), 10 of the record 24 Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls will take to the stage in Miami, Florida for a spectacle to be watched on NBC by an estimated 20 million people.

Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, Julián Castro, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee and John Delaney will each seek to convince American voters they should be the one to take on President Donald Trump.

Peppered with questions about healthcare, student debt, climate change and other hot-button issues, candidates will be given just one minute to respond to each and only 30 seconds to respond to follow-ups. In others words, it is not the time to ramble.

With the candidates desperate to deliver viral sound bites and outshine their competitors - and in so little time - viewers could be in for two hours of chaos.

"A 10-person debate is a mess," US Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who participated in the 2016 primaries, told the New York Times.

Democratic candidate Tim Ryan, who'll face off against Warren, O'Rourke, and the other fellow Democrats, told CNN "it's going to be speed dating with the American people".

While some Americans like to get liquored-up to watch the debate ("democratic debate drinking game" was trending on Twitter in the lead-up), anyone taking what the candidates have to say seriously will want to make notes: The following night another 10 potential presidents will take to the stage for debate two. No wonder some choose to get boozed.


To qualify, candidates are required to hit a minimum of 1 per cent support in three qualifying polls. Alternatively, they have to amass 65,000 individual donors before June 12. All but four Democratic candidates qualified, meaning 20 needed to be split over the two-night event.

As for why there is a record number of candidates throwing their hat in the ring, it's a complex combination of factors. There is no Democratic incumbent seeking re-election and no obvious choice, such as Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election or Al Gore in 2000. Also, an increase in the number of small and medium donations to political campaigns, a trend that rose with Barack Obama in 2008 and skyrocketed with Bernie Sanders in 2016, has made it easier for less popular or well-connected candidates to join and stay in the race.


On night one of the debates, Elizabeth Warren is the only candidate polling in the overall top five. But her popularity could work against her. As a favourite, Senator Warren, 70, has more to lose than her Democratic counterparts who can fairly easily surpass the public's relatively low expectations of them.

John Delaney, 56, a former member of the House from Maryland, or above mentioned Ohio Representative Tim Ryan, 45, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, are virtual strangers to most Americans with nothing to lose and everything to gain if they perform well.

Progressive Texan Beto O'Rourke, and New Jersey Representative Cory Booker, the latter being one of only three black US senators, are household names who could either capitalise on their existing large fan bases, or perhaps not live up to the expectations of supporters.

Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan addresses the South Carolina Democratic Party Convention on Saturday, June 22 in Columbia, South Carolina. Picture: AP
Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan addresses the South Carolina Democratic Party Convention on Saturday, June 22 in Columbia, South Carolina. Picture: AP


Wednesday night marks the first time in US history that more than one woman will be on stage for a presidential primary debate, with Amy Klobuchar and Tulsi Gabbard joining Elizabeth Warren. The gender diverse line-up could create a dynamic not seen before. Issues that disparately affect women, such as reproductive healthcare, childcare, the gender pay gap and sexual harassment, are more likely to be heard in the forum than in past debates.


During the first debate, Mr Trump will be on Air Force One on his way to the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan. For the second debate, he'll be in meetings at the G20.

Mr Trump told Fox Business Network on Wednesday he'd watch because "it's part of my life", but "it just seems very boring. … That's a very unexciting group of people."

Still, there's a chance Mr Trump will find time for a Twitter take-down if he feels threatened.

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